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  • Writer's pictureLaura

Winter Tulips 2023

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

In 2021 I took a class online from Linda d'Arco and Emily von Trapp on forcing tulips in the winter and it was an absolute game changer for our farm. The Tulip Workshop was fantastic and it started me on the journey to understand growing tulips in the winter. Linda and Emily are both incredibly inspiring women and learning from them was such a joy. Even though I've grown flowers for over thirty years there is always so much more to learn and I'm constantly amazed at the ways that the commercial floral industry works to bring us flowers around the calendar year. Growing flowers commercially is very different from growing flowers for pleasure and forcing tulips is a perfect example of this.



Years ago there used to be greenhouses in every town in America and florists would grow the flowers needed their own use. Tulips, hyacinths, paperwhites, carnations, lily-of-the-valley and other flowers grew well under the glass of old fashioned greenhouses when the cold of winter prohibited growing outside. In my family's home town in Wisconsin there was just such a greenhouse which had been owned by a relative but by the time I was a teenager it had fallen into disrepair and was torn down--a victim of economic change and eventually anti-drug legislation that changed the global floral industry forever. My great uncle owned one of the largest greenhouse facilities in St. Louis and my great-great-grandmother visited in the 1920s to see the acres of carnations that he was growing "under glass". Amazingly these greenhouses still exist in St. Louis and I've communicated with the family that operates them--a rare survivor in the American greenhouse industry.


Today the locally grown flower movement is slowly taking hold again around the country and small farms all over the landscape are starting to make inroads into the huge multi-billion dollar floral industry. Most of these farms are barely noticeable as tens of thousands of flowers can be produced on very small acreage.


Back to tulips--we decided to take a big chance and purchased over 20,000 bulbs from commercial suppliers. This sounds like a lot of tulips, but it is a very tiny growing operation compared to most commercial operations. The bulbs arrived as two large stacks of tulip crates.


Tulip crates delivered to the farm


We focused on growing highly specialized tulips--peony flowered super-doubles, parrot flowered tulips, fringed tulips, lily-flowered tulips and enormous French tulips. These arrived the week before Thanksgiving and went into one of the walk-in coolers (recently completed by my helpful husband). With the aid of our farm workers and a couple of friends we got those bulbs planted in crates over the next couple weeks and back into the cooler to make roots in a "simulated winter". Then, after a few weeks they came back out and into our semi-warm basement (cellar) to grow into full-grown tulips.



Crates being moved from the artificial winter in the cooler to the growing space


Our cellar is short and while I can stand up in it, my husband cannot, so this is just barely a usable space. But for growing tulips it is perfect. Every day of winter beginning in the last week of December, 2022, I went down into the basement first thing in the morning and several times during the day to pull tulips out of the crates where they were growing under lights. I was thankful for the cement floor poured many years ago by a farmer eager to have a cleaner cellar as it made this job a lot easier.


Tulips in full bloom in crates in our growing space


My daughter and I spent every day of the winter pulling tulips. This meant checking multiple times a day since tulips mature extremely quickly. We took them from the basement up to a second walk-in cooler to store and then offered them for sale that week. As each crate was finished being harvested we moved new crates in. When the basement was full we could have 5,000 tulips in production at one time which we did do leading up to Valentine's Day.


Tulips are stored after harvest standing up straight in the same crates they grow in (well, clean crates, like the ones they grow in) and we can hold them for a week or two, if needed at very low temperatures--close to freezing. Our second walk-in cooler was used for tulip storage.






We had tulips blooming from the last days of December through May. It was an absolute success and I am hooked. Growing in this way allows us to get tulips to florists and outlets who are committed to buying locally grown flowers in a season when little else is avaialble and we love to help with this mission. Here's a few of the places that we sell our tulips: Little Acre Flowers in Washington, D.C., LocaFlora in Gettysburg, PA, Floracult in Leesburg, VA, Freesia and Vine in Frederick, MD, the brand new Lovettsville Co-op in Lovettsville, VA, and the Hamilton Mercantile in Hamilton, VA.











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